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Movie Review: The Wild Hunt

September 12th, 2010 No comments

Playtime

The Wild Hunt
Directed By Alexandre Franchi
Starring Ricky Mabe, Mark Antony Krupa, Kaniehtiio Horn
The Wild Hunt at the imdb

Watched at the Fantasy Filmfest 2010 in Munich.

Contains light spoilers.

Ever since the release of the Lord of the Rings movies, the genre of medieval fantasy has experienced a boom in all areas. Arguably one of the more extreme manifestations of this trend being Live-Action-Role-Play (LARP), a crossbred between historical reenactment and pen-and-paper role-play. In The Wild Hunt your typical twenty-something Erik stumbles into a large-scale LARP in search for his girlfriend. Despite his brother being among the players, Erik has no sympathy for the people lost in the melange of medieval chivalry, norse mythology and pseudo-Shakespearean colloquies, and is completely unwilling to comply with the rules of the game. Eventually this leads to the unavoidable escalation, as the played out fantasy gives way to real violence.

One of the key points in telling a story about role-play is how well the script manages to grasp the nature of the game itself. In The Wild Hunt the audience initially identifies with Erik. Erik’s life is a mess: he has no job, no perspective and no real identity. He spends large parts of his free time caring for his deranged father, who does not even recognize him anymore. The only light in Erik’s life is his new girlfriend. On the other side we have his older brother Bjorn, whose life isn’t much better, but Bjorn found a way to deal with it. Bjorn is the prototypical escapist, who lives only for the next weekend when he leaves his real-life existence behind to become a mighty viking warrior wielding a hammer forged by the gods themselves. His father’s illness has caused Bjorn to lose interest in everything but the game, which his brother can not forgive him for. The third of the main characters is Lyn, Erik’s girlfriend. She mimics an archetype coined by the dark youth cultures of the 90s: The melancholy happy-go-lucky. Despite her dark goth-style appearance, when confronted with real tragedy, represented by Erik, she decides to run from it and flees into the same fantasy world as Bjorn. A world where she is able to keep her image of the inapproachable princess. She is also characterized by a childish naiveté in both social and sexual matters. It is in this naive escapism, that she of the three main characters most clearly reflects the essential desires addressed by role-playing.

The original conflict is based on these three characters. When Erik arrives at the playing grounds, he is not willing to participate in the game, as he is completely focused on his real-life problems. When he violently intrudes into the fantasy world, he is immediately recognized as an alien, which inhibits all of his attempts to reach Lyn. Only when he accepts the help of his brother, who is familiar with the rules of the game, he is finally able to achieve what he came for. However, with Lyn is removed from the game, the other players are unable to sustain the illusion. Out of this spawns the initial frustration, leading to the final violent escalation.

Most of this works remarkably well. Writer/Director Alexandre Franchi and his co-writer Mark Krupa, who also plays Bjorn, manage to nail their characters with magnificent precision and establish a believable setup for the bloody showdown. They also establish a colorful cast of supporting characters who illustrate the numerous factors contributing to the role-play experience: We have the two referees, again one with an escapist and one with a realistic mindset, the ambitious first-time player eagerly longing for great adventures, the strong female elven leader who uses the game to subversively act out sexuality, and many more. It is through these characters that the script truly manages to get a grasp on the fundamental fascination of role-playing: The ability to leave one’s real identity behind for a limited time and assume the self-determined role of an entirely different character.
While the script has a few flaws – the way the ‘evil’ players behave and eventually freak out seems a little undue; Lyn’s character lacks a clear arc; etc. – those are easily made up for by the numerous well-plotted characters.

A final note must be made on the amount of depicted violence. While most of the movie works as a social drama with frequent scenes of comic relief, the final showdown is dominated by scenes of shockingly brutal violence. Since the players have no weapons at their disposal – mind you, LARP is played with harmless rubber weapons – they fight like cavemen with sticks, stones and fists, which adds a creepily intensive realism. If you have a light stomach, you should strongly consider skipping this one.

Conclusion: Given that a movie dealing with this theme had to come out eventually, The Wild Hunt does its job incredibly well. The script manages to give a detailed insight into the mechanisms of role-play, without discrediting its players. If you have a general interest in the topic and don’t mind the graphic scenes near the end, do not hesitate to give it a try.

There is currently no known release date in Germany.

Categories: Movies

Movie Review: Two Eyes Staring

September 9th, 2010 No comments

Little Girl Gone Wild

Two Eyes Staring/Zwart Water
Directed By Elbert van Strien
Starring Hadewych Minis, Barry Atsma, Isabelle Stokkel
Two Eyes Staring at the imdb

Watched at the Fantasy Filmfest 2010 in Munich.

When Lisa’s grandmother, who she never met, dies, she and her parents move into her old house in the Netherlands. Lisa, upset because she had to leave her friends behind in Belgium, soon begins to tell stories of a little girl living in the basement who seems to have unfinished business with Lisa’s mother.
In many ways, Two Eyes Staring is probably best described as a blend between A Tale of Two Sisters (the US remake of which ran in cinemas last year) and Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone. The main focus of the movie lies on the ghost-story and it manages to tell this story well, however it feels a little too plain at times. Were it not for the surprising ending and a few well-executed scenes scattered in between, the movie would feel like a perfect example of by-the-book horror cinema.

It is therefore not surprising if you get a little bored during the 110 minutes of runtime. Too often you will get the feeling that you have seen all of this before – the three-character setup of the parents and the child; the slow escalation of events accompanied by an increasing prominence of the ghost in the house; the high-contrast low-color lighting scheme, which is so popular in European cinema these days. It is simply too much that is too well known.

Fortunately, the movie manages to throw in just enough bits of interesting plot elements to keep you from drifting away and the ending eventually makes up for most of the lengths encountered in between.

Conclusion: Fans of the genre will like this movie. It is well-crafted, avoids most common mistakes of the genre and in the end even manages to mix some really new ideas into an otherwise fairly standard plot. If the script was just a little more tight and the number of memorable scenes a little higher, this could have been a really good movie.
Since they are not, we will have to be satisfied with a decent piece of genre cinema. Which, mind you, is still more than most movies out there are able to achieve.

There is currently no known release date in Germany.

Categories: Movies

Movie Review: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

September 5th, 2010 No comments

Backwoods Blowout

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Directed By Eli Craig
Starring Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowden
Tucker & Dale vs Evil at the imdb

Watched at the Fantasy Filmfest 2010 in Munich.

Tucker and Dale are your average textbook hillbillies who just want to enjoy a quiet weekend of fishing and beer-drinking in the woods. Which they would probably get, weren’t it for the college kids inhabiting the hut across the lake, who mistake their rural neighbors for backwoods serial killers. When the two save one of the college girls from drowning in the lake at night, the juveniles believe themselves in a grade-A backwood-slasher and soon turn the movie into the very same by their futile attempts to fight the harmless hillbillies.

Of course this only works because the movie regularly switches perspective from the hillbillies harmless leisure activities to what the kids make of them. This results in a highly enjoyable succession of bizarre killings à la Final Destination, before the movie takes a turn for the more serious at about two thirds through.
The main reason this all works so well is the hilarious performances by Tyler Labine and (this author’s long-term favorite) Alan Tudyk, who obviously had a hell of a lot of fun with their roles as Dale and Tucker respectively. While Labine gets the bigger part and a full-fletched character arc, Tudyk does what he does best: Insanely silly mischief.
Without spoiling it can only be said, that the script leads them through parodies of nearly every characteristic moment of the backwoods-slasher genre, which left the audience in the sold-out theatre in Munich screaming with laughter.

And there really is not much more to say. The premise of the script is as simple as it is brilliant and even with the more serious plot developments towards the end of the movie, it remains as enjoyable as one could ever wish from a horror comedy.

Conclusion: Unless you have an unexplainable aversion towards smart horror-parodies, there is no reason not to like this movie. Preferably to be watched amongst a crowd of horror-aficionados who know the genre well enough to recognize the countless references and are not afraid to laugh themselves silly over some good old splatter-slapstick.

There is currently no known release date in Germany.

Categories: Movies

Fantasy Filmfest 2010

September 4th, 2010 No comments

While the whole world has their eyes on Venice these days to celebrate the cinéma d’auteur in all its glory, this author seizes the opportunity to review some good old-fashioned genre movies. From the infamous screens of the Fantasy Filmfest straight to these very pages: Our annual roundup of reviews from Germany’s most enjoyable movie festival is to be expected during the next couple of days.

Categories: Movies

Movie Review: Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance

November 12th, 2009 No comments

Kill your darlings

Evangerion shin gekijôban: Ha
Directed By Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki
Voice Acting: Megumi Ogata, Yûko Miyamura, Kotono Mitsuishi, Megumi Hayashibara
Evangelion 2.0 at the imdb

Watched at the Asia Filmfest 2009 in Munich.

If you remember my review of Evangelion 1.0, my biggest criticism towards the movie was, that it felt too close to the original series to be of any greater interest. Fortunately, the second movie You Can (Not) Advance does quite well at correcting this issue, although it remains unclear whether this is for better or worse.

It starts right off with the introduction of a new character, Mari Illustrious Makinami, the Fifth Children, kicking the shit out of an angel that is attacking the American equivalent of Nerv. While watching this scene, it becomes clear what Hideaki Anno meant, when he justified the production of the new Evangelion movies by the fact, that animation technique had improved so tremendously over the last ten years. The opening fight easily surpasses any action scene from the previous Evangelion material.

It turns out that Kaji used the chaos surrounding the Angel attack to smuggle ‘Key of Nebuchadnezar’ to Japan, an artifact that seems to take the role the Adam embryo had in the original series. If you remember, the whole Adam/Lilith plot was changed significantly in Evangelion 1.0. Immediately after his return to Japan, another Angel appears which marks the introduction of Asuka, who seems to have undergone a change of names for no apparent reason (Shikinami instead of Soryu). Much like in the Evangelion manga, she finishes her first angel more or less in a single gracious blow. The remaining first half of the movie concentrates on the development of the classic character constellation Shinji/Rei/Asuka. Although some favourite scenes are reprised, such as Rei and Asuka in the elevator or an hilarious reimagination of the Shinji/PenPen bath encounter, this part of the movie glaringly differs from the original material. Asuka is an even more presumptous character than in the tv-series. All of the more childish aspects of her personality have been omitted, being it her crush on Kaji or the occasional happy-go-lucky moments, as seen in the Magma Diver episode. While this does intensify the contrast to her wounded, unsettled inner self, it often pushes her character close to the brink of pure stereotypicalness.

What works out really nice though is the metaphorical cooking plot, in which all of the characters develop an increasing interest in the art of cooking, which is introduced as an image representing the values of family and security. This easily compensates for the absence of some characteristic angel battles, like the synchronous attack on Israfel. The overall tone seems very optimistic, even reminiscent of the Iron Maiden reimagination at times. But of course, this would not be Evangelion, if this was meant to last.

By the middle of the movie the story rapidly changes directions in a most cruel and disturbing way, leading the way for the heavy finale.

The good thing is, Evangelion 2.0 feels like something fresh entirely. While there are several sequences strongly influenced by the original material, the movie unlike its predecessor does not slavishly follow it. However, not all of the new ideas seem to work out perfectly. The introduction of the Fifth Children seems arbitrary at best, as her role does not contribute much to the storyline so far. This is emphasized by the fact that her character seems to be awfully similar to Asuka’s.  The villain-of-the-day scheme still is a big problem for the movie’s pace. You can only squeeze so-and-so many epical dramatic showdowns into an hour of film before tireing the audience — and Evangelion 2.0 only misses that point by the skin of its teeth. That is, at least for people who are familiar with the franchise and are actually expecting each of those.

Fortunately, many of its flaws are made up for by the excellence of execution. Apart from the occasionally blotted CGI shot, animation leaves little room for criticism. The sound editing is okay for anime standards, and the voice acting is once again fantastic. Besides the original cast reprising their roles, Maaya Sakamoto, whose voice you may remember as Aerith from Advent Children, joins the cast as Fifth Children. As always, we have loads of fanservice and the occasional on-screen gimmick for considerate viewers/fanboys. Be it the ‘Deutsche Post‘ stickers on Asuka’s luggage or the arranging of the basins of an oceanic cleaning facility in the pattern of the systema sephiroticum: Be sure to keep your eyes peeled, as there is plenty to spot.

From a dramatical point of view, the movie naturally has a hard stand. While the story advances pretty far (roughly up to the point of episode 19 of 26 in the original series), it still leaves the audience with a dangling cliffhanger. This is also what complicates a final verdict. At best, Evangelion 2.0 offers a great potential for the rest of the series. At worst, it is in many instances a pointless, exaggerated action movie. Things are furtherly complicated by the fact, that most moments of real depth in the movie are founded on knowledge only viewers familiar with the original material will have.

Conclusion: Should you watch this movie? If you’re familiar with the franchise, that would be a sounding ‘Hai’! If not, watch the tv series, then watch this movie. While Evangelion 2.0 may not be the best anime in years, it is certainly worthy of the franchise, adding some interesting aspects to the well-known characters. From the point the movie leaves off, it seems not too unlikely, that by overcoming present flaws, the remaining two movies may very well turn the reimagination into the best contribution to the franchise since Sadamoto’s manga adaption.

For those non-fanboys out there: That’s quite a commendation.

Categories: Movies